How long does it take to become a psychologist? It can take as few as 6 or as much as 13 years of schooling to become a fully qualified psychologist. Most, however, spend between 6 and 10 years earning a postsecondary education. Commonly, students take approximately 8 years to get a 4-year bachelor’s and a 4- to 7-year psychology doctorate.
Certain positions in this field that do not involve independent clinical practice may take just 6 years. This generally entails pursuing a 4-year bachelor’s degree in psychology or a related subject and then matriculating into a terminal 2-year master’s program. Those who earn both a master’s and doctoral degree will spend the most time in school—up to 15 years in the longest cases.
Becoming a Psychologist
What factors can increase the amount of time it takes to become a psychologist? After obtaining their master’s degree, many students will participate in pre-doctoral internships designed to provide direct clinical exposure. Such an internship may last 1 or 2 years. Additionally, after obtaining a doctorate, some pursue postdoctoral study as researchers or interns, potentially extending the process by several years.
Graduate School Requirements
Many graduate psychology programs accept students from other subject backgrounds. Therefore, it is not strictly necessary to earn an undergraduate degree in psychology to pursue graduate study in the field, although it may make it easier to get into a program. A 1996 study published in the American Psychologist found the most common coursework required of grad school applicants includes:
- Statistics & Data Analysis
- Experimental Methods & Research Design
- Personality Psychology
- Abnormal Psychology
- Developmental Psychology
Graduate school applicants must take the Graduate Record Exam (GRE) and its subject test in psychology. Psychology students should take these exams no later than December of their senior year.
Once students have their graduate psychology degree in hand, they can turn to the state for professional licensure. Each state has its own requirements that students are responsible for researching. Master or doctoral psychology graduates are also free to pursue national certification with the American Board of Professional Psychology.
Which Psychology Degree?
Graduate school is necessary to become a licensed psychologist. But which graduate degree is appropriate? In most states, it’s necessary to earn a doctoral degree—either the Ph.D. or Psy.D.—in order to practice independently under the title of ‘psychologist.’ While the Ph.D. is ideal for academics and researchers, aspiring clinical practitioners may prefer a Psy.D.
But there are options for those who get educated to the master’s level. School psychologists, marriage and family therapists and mental health counselors, for instance, can stop with a terminal master’s. But a bachelor’s in psychology by itself is usually insufficient to enter the profession.
It’s not necessary to earn both a master’s and doctoral degree. Nevertheless, the competition for getting into psychology doctorate programs has intensified in recent years. As a result, students aspiring to a doctorate who don’t get in on their first try sometimes attend master programs to strengthen their credentials before applying again.